Pacific Northwest fish managers recently took up the issue of protecting the region’s forage fish. The small schooling fish are an important part of marine ecosystems as food for larger creatures like salmon and whales.
A story from our neighbors to the north might give us cause for concern. The Vancouver Sun reports that BC’s $32 million commercial sardine industry has suddenly and ‘inexplicably’ collapsed.
The sardine seine fleet has gone home after failing to catch a single fish. And the commercial disappearance of the small schooling fish is having repercussions all the way up the food chain to threatened humpback whales.
This isn’t the first time sardines have disappeared in BC’s waters.
Sardines supported a major fishery on the B.C. coast in the mid-1920s to mid-1940s that averaged 40,000 tonnes a year. Then the fish mysteriously disappeared — for decades — until the first one was observed again in 1992 during a federal science-based fishery at Barkley Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Some blame overfishing. Others say that changing ocean conditions are the cause.
Another red flag is the behavior of the local humpback whales. Typically hundreds of whales can be seen on Vancouver Island’s coast. This year, there were fewer sightings. Pacific Wildlife Foundation whale biologist Jim Darling says the whales’ actions might be an indicator.
“Humpbacks are telling us that something has changed,” he said. “Ocean systems are so complex, it’s really hard to know what it means. For one year, I don’t think there’s any reason to be alarmed, but there is certainly reason to be curious.”
— Toni Tabora-Roberts
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